There’s a lot to learn from looking back at the journeys that filmmakers take on their way to being a part of film history. In the case of writer/director/actor Peter Bogdanovich, one of the things that jumps out is his education. Not his formal education—as far as I know he didn’t attend college—but his film & theater education. An education that began as a child. (All of the quotes below are from Bogdanovich himself and pulled from various sources.)
Here’s a compressed timeline leading up to Bogdanvich’s film The Last Picture Show. (A film which sits at 95 on AFI’s list of the 100 greatest movies of all time.)
1) Born in Kingston, New York in 1939 & raised in Manhattan.
2) His father took him to see silent films at revival house theaters in New York City. (Developed an early appreciate of visual storytelling.)
3) “At the age of 10 I remember my favorite films were She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Red River, and The Ghost Goes West.”
4) “I started keeping a card file of everything I saw from the age of twelve, twelve and a half.” (He did that for 18 years and had between 5,000—6,000 cards.)
5) His parents didn’t get a television until he moved out of the house.
6) At age 15 he got his first job with a professional theater company in Traverse City, Michigan. “That was a great experience, we did 10 plays in 10 weeks.”)
7) At age 16 started studying acting with Stella Adler. (Continued for 4 years.)
8) At age 19 he got the rights to a Clifford Odets play and took 9 months raising $15,000. to direct The Big Knife. (The play was not a financial success.)
9) When he was 20 he met New York Times film critics Andrew Sarris and Eugene Archer. “They would come over to my apartment in Manhattan and talk movies into the wee hours. I learned a great deal from both of them.”
10) Started writing about plays and films for newspapers to earn some money.”It was a way of getting on screening lists and seeing movies for nothing. And getting books and seeing plays for nothing. It was totally motivated by not wanting to spend my own money because I didn’t have any.”
11) At 24, he did a retrospect on Orson Welles at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for $50.
12) Started writing freelance articles on film for Esquire magazine.
13) Had his second theatrical flop in New York and moved to LA with his wife Polly Platt to try to get into the movies.
14) “A little less than a year after we’d gotten to Hollywood I met Roger Corman by accident…he said, ‘you’re a writer, I read your stuff in Esquire. Would you like to write a movie?’ Yeah, I’d like to write a movie.”
15) He did a rewrite on one of Corman’s scripts for $300 and no credit. “The Wild Angels (1966) as it was known as— it was the most successful film of [Corman's] career.”
16) Bogdanovich also found most of the locations and shot second unit on The Wild Angels. And suggested Peter Fonda for the lead.
17) Just before turning 30 he directed and co-wrote a feature film for Corman called Targets starring Boris Karloff.
18) His next film was The Last Picture Show (1971) which he directed, edited and co-wrote. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and comparisons were made between a young Bogdanovich and Orson Welles after he made Citizen Kane.
That’s a good place to stop for now. Professionally, that was Bogdanovich’s mountain top experience. He was 32 years-old. We’ll look where his career went from there in a later post. But look at the journey. It’s not something that you can duplicate as a filmmaker. But you can appreciate the work and the years (even the failures) that led up to his breakout success.
It’s another prime example of the 10,000 hour rule in effect. What you can take away from Bogdanovich is he took small steps and moved forward. He was serious about the craft. From his film index card system that he started when he was 12, to working at a regional theater in Michigan as a teenager, to hanging out with New York film critics in his early 20s, directing off-broadway plays, writing articles, jumping into Roger Corman’s B-film world, to writing and directing The Last Picture Show was basically a 20 year journey.
P.S. Here’s a little bit of odd film trivia I just discovered. Bogdanovich’s first wife, Polly Platt (who had her own distinguished career in Hollywood) was born in Fort Sheridan, Illinois—the same city where actor/writer Sam Shepard was born. And just 4 years apart. Fort Sheridan is a Chicago suburb on the North Shore of Lake Michigan and just 30 miles from where Orson Welles was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin.